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5 Questions with Paul Farber

Paul Farber

Over three years ago, LSA American culture alum Paul Farber (M.A. ’09, Ph.D. ’13) and a team of researchers audited nearly 50,000 U.S. conventional monuments. He’s found that these monuments shape public perception of historical events, even though many do not tell the whole story. He founded Monument Lab in the name of public service, envisioning a world described in the organization’s value statement, in which “monuments are dynamic and defined by their meaning, not by their hardened immovable and untouchable status.” Now, in a new collaboration with the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA), Farber invites the college to create public symbols of joy, regeneration, and repair.

LSA: In 2020, Monument Lab was awarded a grant by the Mellon Foundation to support the production of a definitive audit of the nation’s monuments—a project that garnered widespread attention. What were your findings?

Paul Farber: The National Monument Audit, a 2021 study produced in partnership with the Mellon Foundation, offered a composite portrait of the ways we as Americans have shaped our monument landscape across generations. The study set included conventional monuments from all 50 states, U.S. territories, and numerous Tribal communities. Our audit drew on sources from federal, state, municipal, Tribal, institutional, and other publicly available sources.

As for the key findings, we summarized them like this:

  • Monuments have always changed.
  • The monument landscape is overwhelmingly white and male.
  • The most common features of American monuments reflect war and conquest.
  • The story of the United States as told by our current monument landscape misrepresents our history.

In conducting this audit and discussing its findings with people from around this country and beyond, we have been inspired by the ways place-keepers and stewards of memory have utilized this research in the service of the work they are doing to reimagine our public spaces.

Read the full interview in the Spring 2024 LSA Magazine.